Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 19/7/2004We may not be the only species with opposable thumbs, but we've certainly made the most of them. From 'thumbs aloft' specialist Paul McCartney to the mighty Tubbin tradition of the Civil Service (thumbs up bums, brains in neutral), these funky phalanges are an essential part of our culture and capabilities.

Monday 19/7/2004
We may not be the only species with opposable thumbs, but we've certainly made the most of them. From 'thumbs aloft' specialist Paul McCartney to the mighty Tubbin tradition of the Civil Service (thumbs up bums, brains in neutral), these funky phalanges are an essential part of our culture and capabilities.

Which makes it odd that the world of computers has largely ignored them. Why is this most powerful and dependable of digits demoted to bashing a space bar, or dully grasping a mouse? Enter the Jackito -- a new PDA from our Continental cousins in Gaul. Tscha, I can hear them tutting already: it's not a PDA, it's a TDA, a Tactile Digital Assistant. Designed to be held like a games controller -- landscape, rather than portrait -- and to be controlled by thumbs alone. Not a bad idea, at that, although the claim on the Web site that the touch-sensitive technology cost 'tens of millions of dollars to develop' seems a tad rich.

Ah yes, the Web site. Reading it is like being wafted back in time 20 years, to a world where hardware was king. Applications software? Ah, write it yourself! Our French thumbmeisters are keen to tell us that the Jackito has seven processors! Seven! Actually, it's two microcontrollers and a programmable chip that can pretend to be five, but seven! How many processors has your Pocket PC got, eh? Not enough, you fool.

As for the software - oh, it's so Gallic it can probably brood in five languages. Forget about point-and-click, that's just too Anglo-Saxon for words. Mais non: docteur, demonstration s'il vous plait. "The grammar for Jackito’s Tactile-language consists of only one Golden Rule for building Tactile-sentences: Subject + Verb + Complement (optional). Each verb is always preceded by its Subject (i.e. a Tactile-Object). The Verbs for each Object allow you to manipulate that Object with your fingertips. As soon as you touch a Tactile-Object, it displays its Verbs. So, the selections you make with your fingertips are always guided by the semantic content of the images on the screen." Anything else? "Finger-Input is user-friendlier." Well, I've always thought so.

It has a BASIC interpreter. It has thousands of optional extras, few of which are available yet. It has 100 pages of Web site that somehow fail to talk much about what you'd actually do with it. It costs too much, and it'll be delivered in 90 days. Ah, the 80s are so very, very back.

Do read the site itself for the full effect. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas une bonne idée. ..

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